Much of the world is enthralled by watching the Olympics right now. The persistence shown by so many of the athletes is a reminder of the on-going need for tenacity, despite setbacks.
Often during the televised segments, you see portions of the British flag as a backdrop. The British flag is a reminder of persistence, even in the face of outright persecution. The Union Jack, the most common name for the flag of Great Britain, is comprised of a mix between St. George’s cross and that of St. Andrew.
The brother of St. Peter, Andrew, was crucified on a cross shaped like an X. St. Andrew’s cross is immortalized through Britain’s flag---and that of Scotland, of Florida, and of many former colonies of England.
Persistence in the face of opposition is heroic. In our day, there’s a great need for persistence in the face of political correctness, which seems to infect virtually every aspect of modern life---even down to our fast food choices.
Consider a few people from the arena of history who refused to quit doing that which was right.
One of my great heroes is Athanasius, the 4th century saint, who was the champion of the Trinity. For his views, he was banished five times from the Roman Empire (outwardly Christian at that time). But he never gave up.
In modern times, in our republic, it’s hard to imagine what it would be like to be banished by the Caesar of the world. Yet by the time of Constantine’s death in 337, Athanasius was on the outs.
Athanasius’ views eventually prevailed and are reflected in the version of the Nicene Creed that is still read week after week by hundreds of millions around the world.
Look at William Wilberforce, perhaps the greatest reformer in history. Because of his strong faith in the Lord, he engaged in a lifelong crusade to rid the British Empire of the evil practice of slavery.
In 1787, this young Member of Parliament wrote in his diary, “Almighty God has set before me two great objectives, the abolition of the slave trade and the reformation of morals.” And so with the help of some like-minded colleagues, he formed two societies: The Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, and The Society for the Reformation of Manners (what we would call today morals).
In 1791, after Wilberforce’s campaign to end slavery began in earnest, John Wesley, the great preacher and founder of the Methodist Church, wrote to the Member of Parliament to encourage him. His letter is a classic:
“MY DEAR SIR, Unless the Divine Power has raised you up to be as Athanasius contra mundum [Athanasius against the world], I see not how you can go through your glorious enterprise in opposing that execrable villainy which is the scandal of religion, of England, and of human nature.”
“William,” wrote John, “unless God is in this, you will fail.”
Wesley continued: “Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils; but if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them stronger than God? Oh, be not weary of well-doing. Go on in the name of God, and in the power of His might, till even American slavery, the vilest that ever saw the sun, shall vanish away before it. That He who has guided you from your youth up may continue to strengthen you in this and all things, is the prayer of, dear sir, Your affectionate servant, JOHN WESLEY”
Wilberforce’s anti-slavery campaign came in two parts. First, to get the slave trade abolished. Second, to free all the slaves. Together these efforts took many decades (roughly twenty-five years for each). He finally received word on his deathbed in 1833 that the slaves were free.
Even President Obama (many of whose policies I take issue with, on biblical grounds) said this in 2010: “Remember William Wilberforce, whose Christian faith led him to seek slavery's abolition in Britain; he was vilified, derided, attacked; but he called for ‘lessening prejudices [and] conciliating good-will, and thereby making way for the less obstructed progress of truth.’”
Take another example, Mother Teresa. Year after year, decade after decade, she helped comfort the dying and the poorest of the poor on the streets of Calcutta (now Kolkata). She once said, “Today God has sent us into the world as he sent Jesus, to show God’s love to the world. And we must sacrifice to show that love, just as Jesus made the greatest sacrifice of all.”
My mom used to love to tell a story about Mother Teresa. One day a reporter was following the dedicated nun around. As she was helping to clean up a smelly, dying man, the reporter turned away in revulsion and said, “I wouldn’t do that for a million dollars.” And Mother Teresa shot back, “Neither would I.”
Nothing worthwhile seems to come easy. Now is not the time to quit. Now is the time to press on, speaking the truth in love, even if some falsely smear you.
Winston Churchill famously said, “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never---in nothing, great or small, large or petty---never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”